Chapter 24.

A Contented Home Coming.

Phil Jay on receiving the order to go back, was overcome with joy. He saw before him the image of Annetje and looked forward to a happy re-union with her. On the road he often left his party and the slow moving ox-wagons, spurred his mount and galloped to the endless hills lying to the east and west of the beaten trail, thus reconnoitring the country from the peaks of the hillocks, lest in the trackless wilderness he should miss the girl of his heart, by going south whilst she and her parents came north.

When the bird trilled its lay, to his ears it sounded for all the world as if his chirrup was a repetition of her name. To him the clattering of the hoofs of his mare sounded like the same articulation “Annetje, Annetje,” all the while. Visions of Annetje Van Zyl formed and re-formed themselves before his mind every hour of the day, and in his dreams during his sleep. This enchantment continued until one day his party came upon Van Zyl's wagons bivouacked on the banks of the Khing Spruit.

Phil Jay received a rousing welcome from Annetje's parents and the other Boers encamped beside the rivulet, all of them eager for authentic information from the front. All the war news he related consisted of the unexpected successes of the Allies, which, of course, was very agreeable to the Boers. Some of it caused the women folk to weep in gratitude; this was concerning the return of Sarel Van Zyl, whose parents and friends up to that moment had counted him among the slain. Phil Jay related that Sarel, too, would have come, but the Commander-in-Chief

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wished to offer him a stretch of land in the conquered territory for his own adventures in the interest of the cause. Sarel himself had in view a cosy estate of which he wished to claim the freehold before another claimant could forestall him. For all this news the Van Zyl family knelt down around the fire and returned thanks to the Higher power.

As for Annetje, she had been overjoyed by the arrival of Phil Jay from the war. The sight of him surrounded by a company of elderly men who were voraciously devouring every word that fell from his lips, as if he were an oracle, was glorious and all-engrossing. All the time that Phil was the centre of attraction she behaved like one treading on enchanted ground; but the climax of her bliss was reached when she heard, late that evening, that Phil Jay had asked for, and received the consent of her parents to “sit-up” with her.  1  This was in accord with her most fervent desires and expectations.

That evening, when drowsy people disposed themselves as travellers usually did, two ecstatic young persons clasped hands gingerly under the wide canopy of heaven, with the evident belief that they were already part of each other. That night, the two young souls, with hearts beating in unison, formally pledged their troth, in the light of the full moon, to live and die the one for the other. Next to the young couple, no man was better pleased than Ra-Thaga at this development. During their stay at Khing he relieved Phil Jay of all cares regarding the wagons and live stock, while Phil devoted more time to his love affair.

Mhudi fully shared the pleasure which her husband felt

page 219
in the betrothal of the young people. The succession of coincidences startled her. She had pronounced Phil Jay “the only humane Boer at Moroka's Hoek.” In her last journey to the north she incidentally crossed the Vaal River in the wagon of Annetje's father. During the few days she travelled with them, she had been charmed by Annetje's disposition which seemed to her a shining contrast to the general attitude of the other Boers; “but who could have guessed,” she exclaimed in wonder, “that my two favourites would finish up by one day becoming man and wife.”

Old Van Zyl, with the concurrence of the other Boers, considered it useless for Phil to continue his journey south with his convoy, as all the Boers had left Moroka's Hoek and were on their train north.

The Van Zyls were also anxious to find Sarel, but were resting their animals at Khing and would remain there pending the arrival of an itinerant pastor to unite Phil and Annetje in the bonds of holy matrimony.

Phil Jay vainly tried to persuade Ra-Thaga to break with his people and remain with him. Annetje too had fallen in love with Mhudi. She said if she lived to have little ones of her own, surely they would be proud to have for an ayah, such a noble mosadi as Mhudi. But, unlike the two men, they knew not each other's language, consequently she made a less favourable impression on Mhudi than Phil did on her husband. Nevertheless their parting was mutually sincere and friendly. Besides Ra-Thaga's own loot, consisting of several head of Matebele cattle and valuable skins he gathered, when the Allies rifled the huts of Inzwinyani, Phil Jay suggested that in token of their friendship, his Mhudi, the only Rolong woman who had been to the front, was entitled to some permanent and

page 220
useful souvenir of her own adventure. He therefore presented her with an old wagon and its gear. In making the presentation Phil Jay said: “It is in rather a poor state of repair; but two bullocks paid to a blacksmith will turn it into the best wagon in Thaba Ncho.” Accordingly he gave her from his convoy two oxen for the purpose.

The Van Zyls, especially, and the other Boers at Khing, feeling outraged at Phil's treatment of the Kafir and his wife, regarded these acts of generosity as being grossly extravagant. Indeed they began to doubt the sanity of the young man. The Boers were God's chosen people, so they argued, and had never seen a heathen treated with so much consideration; they remonstrated with Phil Jay and held that it was unnatural to reward a Kafir for anything he did as liberally as if he were a baptized Christian.

The young man's pithy retort stung them at their most vulnerable point. “What did Paulus mean,” he asked, “when he said to the Galatians 'There is neither Greek nor Jew, bond nor free, male or female, White nor Black, but are all one in Christ Jesus.'”

To the Boers, a race of proverbial Bible readers, who profess Christianity to the point of bigotry, the retort was unanswerable for, amongst them, it would be gross heresy to dispute a single word in that sacred book — God's Holy Word. And when they flinched and recoiled under the force of Phil's scriptural rejoinder, Annetje exclaimed proudly: “I knew that he was right, for I felt certain that Phil would do nothing except in obedience to the Lord's commandments.”

A few days later Ra-Thaga and his party left for the south. The young Boer couple accompanied their Native friends a little distance on the road. They saw the trek safely across the spruit with Mhudi on top of her own

page 221
wagon. Ra-thaga remained in conversation with Phil and Annetje as the wagon went across.

“Who would have thought,” said Phil to him, “when you and I plotted and schemed against Mzilikazi, that he would be routed within a year?”

“Who would have thought,” retorted Ra-Thaga, “that when I urged you to play the man and woo Sarel's sister, you would have her within the same month?”

Annetje guessed that the reference in the Native tongue concerned herself; and pressing her closely to his bosom, Phil said to Ra-Thaga; “Yes, I always told you that this world was round and you refused to believe me; but now that you see it has spun round like a wagon wheel at Mzilikazi's expense, you must believe that it is indeed round.”

“Yes,” said Ra-Thaga, “whether this be a round world or a flat world, you and I have had our revenge, Mzilikazi will not burn any more cities, nor will he capture any more women and cows. Not in Bechuanaland anyway.”

Phil's hands reached out once more and embracing Annetje he called her all kinds of dainty little names. Upon this Ra-Thaga remarked: “Well, if you call Nonnie 'the point of your heart,' then Mhudi must be 'the whole of my pluck.'”

“I wish you two would speak Dutch,” said Annetje softly, “and give me the benefit of your talk.” The above conversation being repeated in the Taal for her information she said: “Your boys should be proud of their parents, Ra-Thaga. You bear the scars of a tiger's claws on your face; a tiger's fangs on your arm and Mzilikazi's spear on your shoulder; and, although the wounds were inflicted far out in the wilderness, their mother turned up each time and nursed you back to health. I am glad to call you

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my husband's friends, but it will take me very long to forgive your refusal to remain with us.”

“O Nonnie,” replied Ra-Thaga, “wait till you have little ones of your own, and you will forgive me soon enough, for then you will understand why Mhudi was so anxious to return to Thaba Ncho.”

“But can't I persuade you to come back after a good long rest and bring your boys with you?”

“Oh no, Nonnie,” protested Ra-Thaga emphatically, “you White people have a way of writing down conditional promises and treating them as debts.”

“Well, well,” said Phil, “it wouldn't be Ra-Thaga if he missed a joke. But this is no time for humour for I shall feel this wrench.”

“Make him forget it, Nonnie,” said Ra-Thaga to Annetje; the proverb says “there's always a return to the ruins, only to the womb there is no return.” One more goodbye, tot wederzien and the young people returned to camp enraptured with visions of a future happiness after the Pastor should have come and done his work.

Phil Jay grievously offended his people's susceptibilities by openly fraternizing with a black couple, and when the Boers had seen the backs of Mhudi and Ra-Thaga for the last time, they were glad to draw the curtain on what they regarded as a most disgraceful spectacle.

Phil and Annetje returned to the camp by the longest way round. They came arm-in-arm as if heedless alike of the temper of their stern-visaged elders as of the divine melody of the cackling of the heath-grouse, and the glory of the sunset. They had been stepping quietly over the dreary veld, with their spirits lost in a new found bliss, more like a pair of dreamers careering through space on a seraph's wings.

page 223

“Oh, when will the predikant  2  reach this God forsaken place?” exclaimed Phil as they neared the encampment. “It will be our happiest hour on earth when he shall have merged our two souls into one. Oh, when will he come, dear little heart?”

“Do be patient, Phil,” muttered Annetje softly, depressing the immature swell of her bosom in order the better to hide the intensity of her own impatience. “The proverb says, 'a hasty dog always burns his mouth.' Is it not enough to know that while my heart yearned for yours, feeling that it alone could quench the fire of my intense desire, your soul, too, was yearning to mingle itself with mine? I know now what I have to live for; so, come soon, come late, I am satisfied.”

In the center of the wagon away on the low road sat Mhudi, the happy proprietress of a valuable “house on wheels.” Her husband having boarded the vehicle from the rear came to sit beside her. Side by side they watched the team of tired oxen lumbering along slowly in the direction of Thaba Ncho, where a warm welcome was awaiting them. The vast plains were dotted by conical kopjes now donning their purple mantle in the waning light. Already the stars began to twinkle overhead as together they viewed the surrounding landscape. He recalled with delight the charm that attracted and held him to her since first they met. He mused over the hallowed glories of being transported from place to place like White people, in their own wagon.

Gone were the days of their primitive tramping over long distances, with loads on their heads. For them the days of the pack-ox had passed, never to return again.

page 224
The carcase of a koodoo or any number of blesbok, falling to his musket by the roadside, could be carried home with ease, leaving plenty of room in the vehicle for their luggage. Was it real, or was it just an evanescent dream?

These pleasant thoughts occupied their minds in the gathering darkness while the old wagon meandered along and the racket of the wagon wheels on the hard road made a fierce yet not very disagreeable assault upon their ears.

“Tell me,” said Mhudi, raising her voice as the wagon rattled along, “why were you so angry with me when I found you at the front? Promise me,” she went on, “you will not again go away and leave me; will you?”

“Never again,” replied Ra-Thaga, raising his voice above the creak-crack, creak-crack of the old wagon wheels. “I have had my revenge and ought to be satisfied; from henceforth, I shall have no ears for the call of war or the chase; my ears shall be open to one call only besides the call of the Chief, namely the call of your voice — Mhudi.”


FINIS

page 225

Chapter 24.

A Contented Home Coming.

Phil Jay on receiving the order to go back, was overcome with joy. He saw before him the image of Annetje and looked forward to a happy re-union with her. On the road he often left his party and the slow moving ox-wagons, spurred his mount and galloped to the endless hills lying to the east and west of the beaten trail, thus reconnoitring the country from the peaks of the hillocks, lest in the trackless wilderness he should miss the girl of his heart, by going south whilst she and her parents came north.

When the bird trilled its lay, to his ears it sounded for all the world as if his chirrup was a repetition of her name. To him the clattering of the hoofs of his mare sounded like the same articulation “Annetje, Annetje,” all the while. Visions of Annetje Van Zyl formed and re-formed themselves before his mind every hour of the day, and in his dreams during his sleep. This enchantment continued until one day his party came upon Van Zyl's wagons bivouacked on the banks of the Khing Spruit.

Phil Jay received a rousing welcome from Annetje's parents and the other Boers encamped beside the rivulet, all of them eager for authentic information from the front. All the war news he related consisted of the unexpected successes of the Allies, which, of course, was very agreeable to the Boers. Some of it caused the women folk to weep in gratitude; this was concerning the return of Sarel Van Zyl, whose parents and friends up to that moment had counted him among the slain. Phil Jay related that Sarel, too, would have come, but the Commander-in-Chief wished to offer him a stretch of land in the conquered territory for his own adventures in the interest of the cause. Sarel himself had in view a cosy estate of which he wished to claim the freehold before another claimant could forestall him. For all this news the Van Zyl family knelt down around the fire and returned thanks to the Higher power.

As for Annetje, she had been overjoyed by the arrival of Phil Jay from the war. The sight of him surrounded by a company of elderly men who were voraciously devouring every word that fell from his lips, as if he were an oracle, was glorious and all-engrossing. All the time that Phil was the centre of attraction she behaved like one treading on enchanted ground; but the climax of her bliss was reached when she heard, late that evening, that Phil Jay had asked for, and received the consent of her parents to “sit-up” with her.  1  This was in accord with her most fervent desires and expectations.

That evening, when drowsy people disposed themselves as travellers usually did, two ecstatic young persons clasped hands gingerly under the wide canopy of heaven, with the evident belief that they were already part of each other. That night, the two young souls, with hearts beating in unison, formally pledged their troth, in the light of the full moon, to live and die the one for the other. Next to the young couple, no man was better pleased than Ra-Thaga at this development. During their stay at Khing he relieved Phil Jay of all cares regarding the wagons and live stock, while Phil devoted more time to his love affair.

Mhudi fully shared the pleasure which her husband felt in the betrothal of the young people. The succession of coincidences startled her. She had pronounced Phil Jay “the only humane Boer at Moroka's Hoek.” In her last journey to the north she incidentally crossed the Vaal River in the wagon of Annetje's father. During the few days she travelled with them, she had been charmed by Annetje's disposition which seemed to her a shining contrast to the general attitude of the other Boers; “but who could have guessed,” she exclaimed in wonder, “that my two favourites would finish up by one day becoming man and wife.”

Old Van Zyl, with the concurrence of the other Boers, considered it useless for Phil to continue his journey south with his convoy, as all the Boers had left Moroka's Hoek and were on their train north.

The Van Zyls were also anxious to find Sarel, but were resting their animals at Khing and would remain there pending the arrival of an itinerant pastor to unite Phil and Annetje in the bonds of holy matrimony.

Phil Jay vainly tried to persuade Ra-Thaga to break with his people and remain with him. Annetje too had fallen in love with Mhudi. She said if she lived to have little ones of her own, surely they would be proud to have for an ayah, such a noble mosadi as Mhudi. But, unlike the two men, they knew not each other's language, consequently she made a less favourable impression on Mhudi than Phil did on her husband. Nevertheless their parting was mutually sincere and friendly. Besides Ra-Thaga's own loot, consisting of several head of Matebele cattle and valuable skins he gathered, when the Allies rifled the huts of Inzwinyani, Phil Jay suggested that in token of their friendship, his Mhudi, the only Rolong woman who had been to the front, was entitled to some permanent and useful souvenir of her own adventure. He therefore presented her with an old wagon and its gear. In making the presentation Phil Jay said: “It is in rather a poor state of repair; but two bullocks paid to a blacksmith will turn it into the best wagon in Thaba Ncho.” Accordingly he gave her from his convoy two oxen for the purpose.

The Van Zyls, especially, and the other Boers at Khing, feeling outraged at Phil's treatment of the Kafir and his wife, regarded these acts of generosity as being grossly extravagant. Indeed they began to doubt the sanity of the young man. The Boers were God's chosen people, so they argued, and had never seen a heathen treated with so much consideration; they remonstrated with Phil Jay and held that it was unnatural to reward a Kafir for anything he did as liberally as if he were a baptized Christian.

The young man's pithy retort stung them at their most vulnerable point. “What did Paulus mean,” he asked, “when he said to the Galatians 'There is neither Greek nor Jew, bond nor free, male or female, White nor Black, but are all one in Christ Jesus.'”

To the Boers, a race of proverbial Bible readers, who profess Christianity to the point of bigotry, the retort was unanswerable for, amongst them, it would be gross heresy to dispute a single word in that sacred book — God's Holy Word. And when they flinched and recoiled under the force of Phil's scriptural rejoinder, Annetje exclaimed proudly: “I knew that he was right, for I felt certain that Phil would do nothing except in obedience to the Lord's commandments.”

A few days later Ra-Thaga and his party left for the south. The young Boer couple accompanied their Native friends a little distance on the road. They saw the trek safely across the spruit with Mhudi on top of her own wagon. Ra-thaga remained in conversation with Phil and Annetje as the wagon went across.

“Who would have thought,” said Phil to him, “when you and I plotted and schemed against Mzilikazi, that he would be routed within a year?”

“Who would have thought,” retorted Ra-Thaga, “that when I urged you to play the man and woo Sarel's sister, you would have her within the same month?”

Annetje guessed that the reference in the Native tongue concerned herself; and pressing her closely to his bosom, Phil said to Ra-Thaga; “Yes, I always told you that this world was round and you refused to believe me; but now that you see it has spun round like a wagon wheel at Mzilikazi's expense, you must believe that it is indeed round.”

“Yes,” said Ra-Thaga, “whether this be a round world or a flat world, you and I have had our revenge, Mzilikazi will not burn any more cities, nor will he capture any more women and cows. Not in Bechuanaland anyway.”

Phil's hands reached out once more and embracing Annetje he called her all kinds of dainty little names. Upon this Ra-Thaga remarked: “Well, if you call Nonnie 'the point of your heart,' then Mhudi must be 'the whole of my pluck.'”

“I wish you two would speak Dutch,” said Annetje softly, “and give me the benefit of your talk.” The above conversation being repeated in the Taal for her information she said: “Your boys should be proud of their parents, Ra-Thaga. You bear the scars of a tiger's claws on your face; a tiger's fangs on your arm and Mzilikazi's spear on your shoulder; and, although the wounds were inflicted far out in the wilderness, their mother turned up each time and nursed you back to health. I am glad to call you my husband's friends, but it will take me very long to forgive your refusal to remain with us.”

“O Nonnie,” replied Ra-Thaga, “wait till you have little ones of your own, and you will forgive me soon enough, for then you will understand why Mhudi was so anxious to return to Thaba Ncho.”

“But can't I persuade you to come back after a good long rest and bring your boys with you?”

“Oh no, Nonnie,” protested Ra-Thaga emphatically, “you White people have a way of writing down conditional promises and treating them as debts.”

“Well, well,” said Phil, “it wouldn't be Ra-Thaga if he missed a joke. But this is no time for humour for I shall feel this wrench.”

“Make him forget it, Nonnie,” said Ra-Thaga to Annetje; the proverb says “there's always a return to the ruins, only to the womb there is no return.” One more goodbye, tot wederzien and the young people returned to camp enraptured with visions of a future happiness after the Pastor should have come and done his work.

Phil Jay grievously offended his people's susceptibilities by openly fraternizing with a black couple, and when the Boers had seen the backs of Mhudi and Ra-Thaga for the last time, they were glad to draw the curtain on what they regarded as a most disgraceful spectacle.

Phil and Annetje returned to the camp by the longest way round. They came arm-in-arm as if heedless alike of the temper of their stern-visaged elders as of the divine melody of the cackling of the heath-grouse, and the glory of the sunset. They had been stepping quietly over the dreary veld, with their spirits lost in a new found bliss, more like a pair of dreamers careering through space on a seraph's wings.

“Oh, when will the predikant  2  reach this God forsaken place?” exclaimed Phil as they neared the encampment. “It will be our happiest hour on earth when he shall have merged our two souls into one. Oh, when will he come, dear little heart?”

“Do be patient, Phil,” muttered Annetje softly, depressing the immature swell of her bosom in order the better to hide the intensity of her own impatience. “The proverb says, 'a hasty dog always burns his mouth.' Is it not enough to know that while my heart yearned for yours, feeling that it alone could quench the fire of my intense desire, your soul, too, was yearning to mingle itself with mine? I know now what I have to live for; so, come soon, come late, I am satisfied.”

In the center of the wagon away on the low road sat Mhudi, the happy proprietress of a valuable “house on wheels.” Her husband having boarded the vehicle from the rear came to sit beside her. Side by side they watched the team of tired oxen lumbering along slowly in the direction of Thaba Ncho, where a warm welcome was awaiting them. The vast plains were dotted by conical kopjes now donning their purple mantle in the waning light. Already the stars began to twinkle overhead as together they viewed the surrounding landscape. He recalled with delight the charm that attracted and held him to her since first they met. He mused over the hallowed glories of being transported from place to place like White people, in their own wagon.

Gone were the days of their primitive tramping over long distances, with loads on their heads. For them the days of the pack-ox had passed, never to return again. The carcase of a koodoo or any number of blesbok, falling to his musket by the roadside, could be carried home with ease, leaving plenty of room in the vehicle for their luggage. Was it real, or was it just an evanescent dream?

These pleasant thoughts occupied their minds in the gathering darkness while the old wagon meandered along and the racket of the wagon wheels on the hard road made a fierce yet not very disagreeable assault upon their ears.

“Tell me,” said Mhudi, raising her voice as the wagon rattled along, “why were you so angry with me when I found you at the front? Promise me,” she went on, “you will not again go away and leave me; will you?”

“Never again,” replied Ra-Thaga, raising his voice above the creak-crack, creak-crack of the old wagon wheels. “I have had my revenge and ought to be satisfied; from henceforth, I shall have no ears for the call of war or the chase; my ears shall be open to one call only besides the call of the Chief, namely the call of your voice — Mhudi.”


FINIS


Footnotes & References

#NoteDescription
1... to 'sit up' with herA Custom among Boer lovers that precedes a betrothal
2PredikantClergyman